Luz María Henríquez has joined the ACLU of Missouri as its new executive director, resolving a nine-month national search for a successor to Jeffrey Mittman.
Henríquez comes to the position from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, where she recently served as managing attorney for LSEM’s education justice program. Legal Director Tony Rothert has served as interim executive director since Mittman’s departure in April 2019.
Henríquez grew up in Fontana, California. Her career was been shaped by her parents’ experience as immigrants from Mexico, she told Missouri Lawyers Media when she received a Women’s Justice Award in 2017.
“As the U.S. born daughter of two Mexican immigrants who lived in the shadows for some time, along with other undocumented immigrants, I grew up witnessing racial injustices which led to racial inequity,” she said at the time. “I knew I had to take part in fighting against such injustices.”
Henríquez did not respond to an interview request, and the ACLU did not make her available for an interview.
She obtained her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. In her third year of law school, she was a visiting law student at New York University School of Law.
She built her litigation experience at Hogan Lovells in New York City, handling complex litigation as well as pro bono work. She joined LSEM in 2014 as a staff attorney for the children’s legal alliance unit.
In 2017, she was named program director of LSEM’s “School-to-Prison Pipeline” initiative, a three-year program funded through a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The project has focused on combating the systemic issues which create racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline and exclusionary practices.
Brendan Donelon, a Kansas City attorney and ACLU board member, led the group’s executive director search committee. He said the board was impressed by her passion and her decision to leave a large law firm in New York City to come to St. Louis and work in the nonprofit sector.
Her work on the school-to-prison pipeline also made her a standout candidate, he said.
“That’s one of the bigger issues Missouri itself faces . . . we have a high ratio of people basically going from school to prison,” Donelon said, adding that addressing the issue is also one of the ACLU’s top priorities.
While being a lawyer is not a requirement of the job, Henríquez is an excellent attorney, he said. She also brought several intangible qualities the board was seeking, he said.
“She just has a great personality and is very engaging, which is very important for the position,” he said.
At LSEM, Henríquez played a key role in two important cases for education in Missouri.
In 2018, she helped a client to obtain a settlement in a case in which a student claimed he was denied his right to an alternative education after he was suspended from school. The case is among the first to interpret state law on the rights of disciplined students to alternative education.
In February, she also helped clients to obtain a settlement requiring a St. Louis-area school district and the state of Missouri to take actions to ensure access to education for students experiencing homelessness. The agreement is believed to be the first of its kind.
Henríquez also has served on the juvenile subcommittee of the Missouri Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness and as a member of the advisory board of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s Racial Justice Training Institute.
In 2019, Missouri Lawyers Media also presented Henríquez with a Diversity & Inclusion Award in recognition of her work with the education justice program.